A staple ingredient of many stews and soups in the winter, leeks are in season from August to March but at their best in the depth of winter, when few other vegetables are fresh in season. They were made popular by the Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks, who all helped spread leeks from their native Central Asia across Europe.
Whilst leeks are fairly limited in their uses, they are superb for the few they are good for. A true gourmet vegetable, it has a subtle flavour that its relatives such as onion and garlic long for, making it a delicious meal in its own right, steamed, sauted or grilled. It is good for flavouring soups and stocks, and furthermore, easy to grow, making light work of surviving cold, wet conditions that kill off other plants.
The white part of leeks is coloured this way by pulling up soil around the plant, which blanches the stems. This is the part of the plant that is typically eaten as a meal, although the green leaves can be used for flavouring stocks.
Leeks are a great addition to the diet; they have many of the dietary benefits of onions, including reducing cholesterol and helping combat the offset of diabetic heart disease, and also to help lower blood pressure. Allium vegetables have also been shown to reduce the risk of prostate and colon cancer if taken as little as two to three times a week.